CENTER FOR PSYCHOTHERAPY
MONTHLY TIDBIT: FEBRUARY, 2015
“WILL YOU BE MY VALENTINE?”
From the Desk OF:
Beth Kincaid, MEd, LPC, NCC (Office Manager/Psychotherapist):
If a tree that falls in the forest makes no sound when there is no one to hear it, so does a life that is not shared have little meaning. The process of sharing our lives with one another is called intimacy. If our personal relationships do not fill our need for intimacy, we may turn to social organizations, to “causes” or to relationships with “professional intimates”: beauticians, counselors, doctors, bartenders, etc. Many of us, having been so emotionally damaged that we can’t trust other people, may even turn to drugs for a temporary sense of connection with others. We do not want to fall in the forest of life alone. Intimacy occurs on many different levels, including social (friendship), physical (sexual), intellectual (exchange of ideas) or emotional (sharing of feelings). This month’s newsletter focuses on emotional intimacy: What it is, What fosters its growth, How it benefits us, and How we can increase our ability to build intimate relationships.
INTIMACY , LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS
Intimacy is one of the highest human needs. Although it isn’t necessary for physical survival, it does seem essential to emotional survival, for this sharing of emotional, intellectual and physical experiences gives richness and satisfaction to our lives. Intimacy distinguishes friends from mere acquaintances; parenting from caretaking, marriage from a working “partnership”.
Defining intimacy can be difficult, but one explanation might be that intimacy is …
- a series of frequent contacts between two people,
- in close physical proximity,
- who have significant common goals,
- share personal information,
- and care deeply about one another.
Intimacy is the moment when hearts and minds touch – when we reach past our usual social roles to say. (in words and actions): “This is who I really am; This is what I feel, what I hope for, what I dream; what I fear. I want you to accept me. I want to know who you are, What you dream, and what you fear.” Intimacy is emotional understanding, a process of knowing another human being with the heart rather than the head; not just intellectual understanding, but empathy. It is characterized by honesty, spontaneity and easy sharing of feelings and ideas without fear of censure. Emotional intimacy can vary from the relatively superficial sharing of activities, through exchanges involving strong feelings… to the euphoria that occurs when feelings are so closely interwoven that time and space are distorted. But certain conditions are necessary for any form of intimacy to grow and flourish.
Trust is the basis for all intimate relationships. Other prerequisites for intimacy include:
- Self-disclosure: Sharing feelings, Thoughts and Values.
- Shared control of the relationship: Giving equal importance to both partners’ feelings and desires;
- Sensitivity to feelings (both your own and those of your partner);
- Ability to resolve conflict in mutually acceptable ways;
- Autonomy: a clear sense of one s own identity.
- Vulnerability: a willingness to let down usual defenses and be candid.
Afraid of Closeness? We are constantly balancing the desire for closeness against fears of being abandoned or betrayed. Barriers to intimacy may center on fears of being criticized and rejected or, alternatively, of being engulfed and controlled by our loved ones. Both stem from the absence of a strong sense of identity and autonomy. Sometimes we fear that if others really know us, they won’t like us. Their opinion of us becomes more important than even our own; we make them our judges and live in fear of being criticized. Afraid of “saying the wrong thing’, we reveal little about ourselves stifling the development of intimacy. In other instances, the desire to be close is outweighed by fears of becoming overly dependent or vulnerable. We mistake the interdependence of intimacy for loss of control. People who have difficulty trusting others often fear the vulnerability that is integral to intimacy. They fear that if they open their lives to others, the information they reveal will be used to humiliate, ridicule or embarrass them. Therapy helps clients overcome these fears so that they can experience the warmth and closeness of intimacy without unrealistic fears of being criticized or controlled. Within the accepting, non-judgmental atmosphere of the therapeutic relationship, the client can develop and practice intimacy skills that can then be transferred to intimate relationships outside the therapy setting.
Types of Intimacy:
Close Encounters… Intimacy involves the exchange of thoughts, feelings, dreams and reflections about life. Four types of emotional intimacy have been identified by sociologist Marilyn Lester:
1) Problem-solving: This special sense of closeness is frequently men shared accepted the information uncritically. These women felt deep empathy, not only for the men’s feelings, but also for their discomfort at having breached the male stereotype of emotional stoicism.
2) Self-disclosure: On a more personal level. Probably the most frequent type of intimate encounter, self-disclosure is marked by sharing personally significant information that is usually kept private. Because the person making the disclosure often sees the shared information as negative or embarrassing, such confidences usually generate a sense of closeness and trust. The men studied by Dr. Lester found these experiences especially significant because they violated the usual “strong and silent” male role and because the women with whom the men shared accepted the information uncritically. These women felt deep empathy, not only for the men’s feelings, but also for their discomfort at having breached the male stereotype of emotional stoicism.
3) “We” experiences are the recognition and acknowledgment of the depth and importance of a relationship. They are characterized by mutual recognition of shared feelings, viewpoints or memories; thoughts and feelings are shared easily without fear of criticism. So complete is the empathy at this level that there is often a sense of two people being one person. Time distortions may occur, as when lovers become so absorbed in one another that an evening together seems like an hour.
4) Embracing. Physical closeness often follows other intimate experiences. A hug after exchanging confidences emphasizes mutual acceptance of one another.
Men, Women and Intimacy… ln The McGill Report on Male Intimacy, Professor Michael McGill reports interesting sex differences in how men and women handle intimacy- Men are “Reluctant Revealers” of information on all levels: public, private and personal, and “Cautious Conformers” when they do recount an event. When women disclose information, they tend to describe how they are affected by it, and what it means to them personally and emotionally. Men use sex as their primary measure of closeness. For women, sex is only one aspect of intimacy, along with time spent together, variety and value of exchanges, exclusivity, and mutual concerns. Women value emotional exclusivity in a relationship, viewing it as a foundation for other dimensions of intimacy. Men are “Emotional Evaders” in relationships, fearing emotional exclusivity because they confuse it with being engulfed or controlled. Women attempt to build intimacy through revelations about a variety of thoughts and feelings. They measure the closeness of a relationship by the variety of information they can disclose in it. Men do not see such revelations as central to who they are; they tend to divide their intimate revelations, talking about certain things in one relationship and others in another. Men seem to define intimacy as shared time and activities, as an end in themselves. Women view such experiences more as a bridge to the sharing and disclosures that build deeper levels of intimacy.
The Heart of Intimacy:
Self-Disclosure…As difficult as it may be, the sharing of private thoughts and feelings is central to the experience of intimacy. But people differ on what they reveal, and to whom. Some people speak with embarassing freedom about their sex lives, but would never dream of disclosing their income. Others talk freely about their feelings on everything except the person they are speaking to! Some interesting facts have emerged from the research on self-disclosure:
- Self-disclosure gets easier. As we grow older, we become more willing to reveal ourselves to others.
- We are more likely to talk about our tastes, interests, attitudes, opinions and work than about money. ourselves or our bodies.
- Equal self-disclosure is not necessary for good friendships or even marriages. Relationships can flourish even though one partner has a greater need for disclosure than the other.
- The more we like someone, the more willing we are to reveal ourselves to that person. This is true for professional (such as doctor or counselor) and personal relationships.
- Similarly, we tend to like people who reveal themselves to us in appropriate ways, but…
- Timing is important. Revealing too much. too soon, can cause the other person to feel an obligation to reciprocate. This can be beneficial to an established relationship, but damaging to a new one.
- Lack of self-disclosure indicates emotional maladjustment, not strength. The more insecure and emotionally “fragile” you are. The less likely you’ll be to reveal personal details about your life
Creating Closeness… We’re all so curiously alone. But it’s important to keep on making signals through the glass. John Updike
Practice: Intimacy is a skill. Our desire to love and be loved may be innate, but the ability to create closeness is a learned skill that must be practiced to keep it from becoming rusty.
Speak Up: Ask clearly and tactfully for what you want. Don’t expect others to “read your mind” and know what you want without asking for it. And don’t try to read theirs by assuming that others can’t or won’t give you what you want.
Express Yourself: Express feelings, both positive and negative. Shared feelings create the emotional climate of a relationship. The greater the variety of feelings we are able to express in a relationship, the richer it will be. Your therapist can help you recognize and overcome barriers to expressing a full range of feelings.
Resolve Conflicts: When problems occur, look for a solution that satisfies both parties. Remember that conflicts about wants and needs are easier to resolve than conflicts about values, which may require a therapist’s intervention.
Identify Barriers: Acknowledge your stumbling blocks in intimate relationships and enlist your partner’s aid in overcoming them. When your arguments are repetitive or your disagreements remain unresolved, you have a barrier to intimacy. It’s easier to overcome such rough spots with cooperative efforts than by trying to do it alone.
Cultivate Friendships: Too often, we think of intimacy only in the context of romantic relationships. Friendships are a rich source of non-sexual intimacy and provide a balance for the more intense intimacy of mate relationships.
Be Sensitive: Work at being sensitive to your partner’s needs, feelings and barriers to intimacy. When we believe that another person really cares about us, we are more willing to be open, to express feelings and to take emotional risks. Sensitivity creates empathy and strengthens intimacy.
Overcome the Past: Leave the past behind when you begin a new intimate relationship, or a better phase of an old one. When we are preoccupied with memories of being hurt by our previous partners, we usually re-create the very pain that we seek to avoid. Therapy helps put the memories to rest and overcome fears of being hurt again.
Intimacy & Health… There is growing evidence that intimacy benefits physical health as well as mental health. For instance…
- People with few relationships have mortality rates two to five times higher than those with strong supportive ties, despite other healthy habits such as not smoking, drinking moderately, and exercising.
- The incidence of terminal cancer is higher among isolated people than those with close emotional ties.
- Mental hospitalization is 5-10 times more common among divorced, separated and widowed people than among married people.
- Under equal stress, pregnant women without supportive relationships have 3 times the number of complications as pregnant women who have strong social support.
Test Your IQ (Intimacy Quotient):
Do these statements apply to you (1) never. (2) seldom or (3)often?
- I spend time and energy cultivating relationships and friendships.
- I have platonic friendships with members of the opposite sex.
- I like to touch and be touched affectionately.
- Sexual intimacy is a way for me to express closeness and caring.
- When someone close to me withdraws emotionally, I don’t immediately feel rejected or abandoned.
- I can enjoy solitude without being lonely.
- I am aware of and comfortable with my different moods and feelings.
- l feel accepted, valued and understood by my family and close friends.
- I express both positive and negative feelings to those close to me.
- I enjoy learning about other people.
- I can resolve conflicts with intimates in mutually beneficial ways.
- I share hopes and dreams as well as self-doubts with those close to me.
- I am sensitive to the feelings of others and can empathize with them.
- Other people seem friendly and responsive when I reach out to them.
- I can tolerate faults in myself and in those close to me.
Score as follows: never=1; seldom=2; often=3. Your lQ is: high if you score 30-45; moderateif you score 16-29; low if you score 0-15. For another perspective, ask someone close to you to score you, then compare the two sets of scores and responses.
Latest News: We are pleased to congratulate the original founders of The Center For Psychotherapy: Barbara Metz, PhD and Peter Wohlwend, M.Div., on their recent and well-deserved retirement July 1, 2014!
Location: We are located in a historic home at 912 North Elm Street in the Fisher Park section of Greensboro, North Carolina. (Near the intersection of N. Elm and Bessemer Ave.) The Center has a relaxed and inviting atmosphere designed to make our clients feel safe and at ease. We have ample parking and are on the Greensboro City bus line.
Mailing address: 912 North Elm Street, Greensboro, NC 27401
Phone: (336) 274-4669 Fax: (336)- 274-4749